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If President Xi Jinping’s ambitions become a reality, Beijing will cement its position at the center of a new world economic order spanning more than half the globe. Already, China has extended its influence far beyond that of the Tang Dynasty’s golden age more than a millennium ago.
The most tangible manifestation of Xi’s designs is the new Silk Road he first proposed in 2013. The enterprise morphed into the “Belt and Road” initiative, a mix of foreign policy, economic strategy, and charm offensive that, nurtured by a torrent of Chinese money, is rebalancing global political and economic alliances.
Xi calls the grand initiative “a road for peace.” Other world powers such as Japan and the U.S. remain skeptical about its stated aims and even more worried about unspoken ones, especially those hinting at military expansion. To assess the reality of Belt and Road from the ground up, Bloomberg Markets deployed a team of reporters to five cities on three continents at the forefront of China’s grand plan.
What emerges is a picture of mostly poor nations — laggards during the past half-century of global growth — that jumped at the promise of Chinese-financed projects they hoped would help them catch up. And yet as some high-profile ones falter and the cost of their Chinese funding rises, would-be beneficiaries from Hambantota, Sri Lanka, to Piraeus, Greece, are questioning the long-term price. In Malaysia, one of the biggest recipients of Chinese investment in Southeast Asia, newly installed Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad is pushing back. Expressing concerns about loan conditions and the use of Chinese labor that limit benefits to the local economy, he’s put billions of dollars of Chinese-funded rail and pipeline projects on hold.
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